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Jack, the flag

Posted by James Briggs on November 15, 2002

In Reply to: Jack, the flag posted by Robert on November 15, 2002

: : : : I am US-born, but my father was from Glasgow, and he often used this term. I took it to mean a sort of cocky, dandy, self-confident sort of fellow. Does it refer to some historical figure or is it just a generic, British idiom?

: : : I think it's generic, rather than historical. You're right about cocky and self-confident, but less so about dandy. A Jack the lad is also somewhat roguish, a person who gets up to minor sins and maybe even minor crimes, albeit the expression is more fond than pejorative - you usually can't help but like a Jack the lad. I have no proof at all, but I suspect the expression arose from the joining of two separate terms - in the UK, "Jack" was used to refer to the ordinary man in the street, as in "I'm all right, Jack" (a little like the US usage of Joe, as in he's a regular Joe, I suppose). Similarly "lad" in the UK is still used to describe someone who's loud and boisterous - "he's a bit of a lad" and "laddish" are commonly used to this day. We even have the recent coinage of "ladettes" to describe lager-swilling brash twenty-something girls out in droves at night.

: : Speaking of which, why is the British flag called the Union Jack? Or maybe it's The Union, Jack? :)

: I think "jack" is a nautical term for the flag that is flown at the front (excuse me, bow) of a ship. I guess the union part refers to the merging of the English and Scottish crosses on the flag.

Correctly, the flag in the Union Flag. It's often called the Union Jack, but this is wrong. As stated above, a 'Jack' is only flown from the bow of a ship - on the 'jack mast'.
The flag itself represents the Union of Scotland and England after the death of QEI, with the red cross of St George for England on its white background, plus the white saltire of the cross of St Andrew for Scotland on its blue backgound. The flag so remained until 1802 or thereabouts when the red saltire of Ireland was added to represent that Union (I've forgotten which saint this represents, but possibly St Peter. Wales was never represented because it was never a Kingdom in the previous 1000 years - always a Principality.

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